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Freedom of speech is not tolerance of hate speech

The Women and Gender Studies Department at Rutgers University invited Steven Salaita to speak at an event called “Silencing Dissent.” Previously, the University of Illinois rescinded Steven Salaita’s invitation to be a professor at their school because of his anti-Semitic and bigoted Tweets, such as “Israel: transforming anti-Semitism from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” I am appalled that someone who finds anti-Semitism honorable and blames victims of anti-Semitic verbal and physical attacks was allowed to speak at Rutgers. I believe that hateful speech should not be supported or promoted in a University that values diversity.

A main point of his speech was how professors are silenced for criticizing Israel. He discussed how Israel supporters have leverage preventing professors from criticizing Israel. He didn’t address that Israel supporters are frequently criticized in many universities. He did not address how it is generally unacceptable to criticize existence of a country and not just its policies. He did not address how he was not penalized for criticizing Israel — he was penalized for anti-Semitism.

Israel is a vibrant democracy. Feel free to criticize Israel. As an Israeli American, I always do. A key part of American and Israeli democracy is freedom of expression, and everyone should exercise it.

However, during the event, he spoke about how to bring about the destruction of the state of Israel. He discussed the need to publish reports that are anti-Israel, to expose “facts” that are anti-Israel and to encourage anti-Israel movements.

He advocated for the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement of Israel and said its aim is to “to discredit and eliminate Israel.” He wasn’t promoting civil rights, nor discussing how to fund raise for support of Palestinians, but focused on discrediting and eliminating an entire country.

Having been born and raised in Israel, calling for the destruction of the country and culture I’m from is something I consider genocidal. It’s obviously a tense situation. In a society and University that promotes free speech, I value listening to different sides of the story. That’s why I attended the event. However, I was appalled by what I heard. It was not free speech — it was hate speech. He did not promote dialogue, respect, mutual understanding and peace between the Palestinians and Israelis in any way, but instead called for the destruction of one of those entities.

I am shocked that classes under the Center for Middle Eastern Studies awarded students extra credit for attending this event. Why did two Rutgers departments that should represent the University’s goal of diversity actively promote hate speech by hosting this speaker?

Ravit Keren is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in psychology and political science.

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